Paul Greengrass returns to direct this fourth instalment of the Bourne franchise, with a plot cobbled thinly together from the previous three. Bourne (Matt Damon) is brought back from the cold when villainous Agency head honcho Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) starts a covert intelligence program – Ironhand – operating beyond the radar of the government. Sound familiar?
First priorities are met: there are great set-pieces, particularly one motorcycle-chase orchestrated around an impressively staged protest in Athens. The performances, sadly, aren’t equal to the action. Lee Jones plays the CIA’s director general like a man who doesn’t only think very little of the role, but of life in general. Damon is good – frowning intensely into his peripheries – but he speaks about thirty lines in the entire movie.
The post-NSA context adds an interesting dimension – is Bourne Snowden, or is he a CIA loyalist? But Greengrass sidesteps the question by introducing his deus ex machina: Bourne is actually just a guy trying to avenge his father, a CIA analyst killed in suspicious circumstances just before Bourne joined the agency.
And herein lies the problem.
“This time it’s personal” is almost always the lazy way out when devising a sequel, but Greengrass and co-writer Christopher Rouse also seem to have forgotten that it was always personal for Bourne, that his motivation sprang from a complex thatching of tragedy and betrayal that was at once intimate and geopolitical. He was allowed to grow organically over the course of three movies, inescapably the product of a corrupted institution, but also inescapably, affectingly human.
He was one man, but his targets were grand and opaque, not small and fleshy. All of that characterful ambiguity is abandoned at the alter of lazy plotting. Jason Bourne, for all the directorial and acting talent at its disposal, is a surprisingly stupid movie, and Jason Bourne himself is made stupid by it. No longer is he the multifaceted spy embodying our anxieties about technology and surveillance – no, Jason Bourne is now the man crashing Blues Brothers-style through a Vegas casino chasing the bastard who murdered his father.